Thursday, 15 November 2012

More from Inside Croydon and Elizabeth Ash on the John Laing fiasco!

"The worst nightmare of public library supporters appears about to be realised. Library campaigners have long feared that Croydon Council will resort to using some of the borough’s library buildings to bolster the flagging value of the secretive £450million urban regeneration vehicle – aka “massively failed property speculation deal” – which the council’s under-pressure chief executive Jon Rouse has pushed through with Laings."

The Croydon based campaigner Elizabeth Ash has this to say -

"Our money was frittered away on a sham consultation, the data from which, has been completely disregarded. Residents responded genuinely to offer suggestions but have been betrayed as they were never up for consideration. Whole sections of the community were not asked their opinion, lulled to believe that their library was safe. Croydon proceeded with the market-testing and procurement process, without a mandate to do so, frittering away a further £250K of our money. 

It is hard to see how Croydon will justify this decision; a decision that now looks very much predetermined. There will be no economies of scale, which was Croydon's justification for working with Wandsworth.  Croydon Council have run our library service down to the bare bones to pave the way for the takeover, modelling the Laings approach of stripping out shelving and stock and conditioning Croydon residents, over time, to a greatly reduced service.

So, what have Croydon got to look forward to? We need look no further than Hounslow, where Laings have already stripped out the service:
- Minimal staff, working to robotic procedures from island style service desks in isolation from users and other staff members
- Limited and poorly chosen book stock and periodicals
- Severely limited access to staff as much of the service is automated and few librarians are employed
- Management of spaces, that actually discourage use - such as open seating areas with constant passing distractions and reduced quiet areas for study or a children's library devoid of staff to help, engage or encourage the younger library user.

No doubt Laings will appear a slicker operator than Croydon but, let's face it, with the ongoing hollowing out of services, that won't be hard to achieve. 

This decision leaves Croydon wide open to challenge and, if the figures are withheld as I suspect they may well be, this will cause an outcry, compounding their already vulnerable position."

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